Thursday, May 17, 2018


File:Grizzly Bear Yellowstone.jpg

At left, a Grizzly Bear as photographed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife folks. Terry Tollefsbol in this case. Nice job.

Our crew is going to Yellowstone in the fall and I'm getting up to speed on flies, rivers, terrain, weather, and the works.

As a destination, it's an embarrassment of riches.

I'm also considering eating nothing but bacon sandwiches all week.  It's what this guy would eat if he could ask.

I'm sitting on the bank and watching the water, eating a bacon sandwich on toast, drinking coffee. 

I could start everyday like that.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


This morning's baked-goods-illustrated segment: mini-muffins. Blueberry, of course. I use too many blueberries.

Sue me.

Muffins are only a blueberry delivery mechanism. Besides, I'm practicing for the Camp of Old Bears in Yellowstone.

It's a trip year. The Amber Angler crew is going to Yellowstone for a Montana outing. Huge trip for us.

I'm going on a fly-in to northern Ontario again in August which is always a blast.

I'm going to Rocky Mountain National mid-summer for some mountain meadow fly fishing. Taking Frau Bear (thus the "meadow" because she isn't going to pack three hours and 2000' of climb to the better alpine lakes). Early morning is the trick to avoid crowds and so, we'll be a dawn patrol along with a couple students under instruction. Pity them.

Hey, soft hackles -- fished wet and dry -- in a mountain stream and at the edges of pocket lakes. Should work fine.

The Dexter Casting Club (not to be confused with the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club here) is getting off the ground. We're doing a bit of Monday night casting practice and self-paced learning on a local pond.

We'll have sessions on the Huron, too -- after the bitch decides not to drown me. Water is high, fast, and dangerous for wading now. Pretty much like my entire state.

Anyway. Spey work on the river for trout and steelhead practice. Single-hand work on pond for the all-around. Should be good jovial efforts followed by something tasty at the Beer Grotto like the delinquents we anglers are.

Which brings me to these guys:

I've a juvenile (delinquent) turkey problem. These skinny little bastards are scraping the new mulch out of my perennial beds,  smoking cigarettes they roll themselves, and occasionally tagging things with silver sharpies. They make a lot of noise at dawn, too.

"Get offa my yard!"

The good number of these guys hanging around means my growing coyote problem has been addressed.


I get my mileage out of spending money for trips and vacations by anticipation. I stretch the value by using the preparation time for increasing my enjoyment.

I read, study photographs, maps, and satellite images. I read the descriptions and accounts of similar outings. I plan. I scheme. I even dream.

It stretches the dollar.

It's no different than winter tying sessions with a glass of scotch and a fire in the woodstove as I sit with Lou the foxhound in the library, watch the snow, and whip out another half-dozen Royal Wulffs.

I feel the enjoyment of fishing when I am not in the field.

I'm prepping for Yellowstone now because the damn park is huge and opportunities in and around it are enormous. Our group has a great place to stay. I've rented a Subaru to drive around with Leechboy as we hit various spots. Seemed a good choice given a late-fall chance of sleet.

I'm working on the precis brief on the waters of the area -- though none of the Amber Liquid guys will read it. They're impulsive. Makes 'em good companions.

I always feel I need to know the area. They feel that "going" is going to work out. Both ways can work and usually do work out fine.

I shared a book recommendation with The Senator. He too likes to know what he is getting into in order to not miss out on "the good stuff." Stopping at one bend on a river is fine but we both want to know what we're missing around the next bend.

I've set-up my LaTex typesetting software and am producing my briefing in the style of Dr. Tufte (here). It is going well and I'm enjoying the effort at non-fiction.

I've seen a similar layout used for fiction as well (The Selected Works of T.S.Spivet). The novel I reference was sold at auction by the author's agent for an advance of $1M in part because of the book's visual appeal. The marketing department of several publishers all believed that anyone opening the book would likely buy it based on the copious appeal of the side-notes and illustrations.

Literary fiction remains a difficult market despite the occasional gimmick.

So, I'm putting together the precis briefing on Yellowstone. I'm happy.

When the last time a writer said he was happy about something?

It's wet here and I sorted flies in the various versions of "go to field" boxes a couple weeks ago. Anticipation, again.

I sort by size and tone. I've got some color problems in these boxes. There's some size and composition stuff to sort out, too. I don't have my soft-hackle streamers in these pictures.

Basically, after sorting my boxes are still hunt and peck sorts. Meh. I'm not a commercial fisherman. I drink coffee on the water and have time to hunt and peck. It shows.

I do have two new Umpqua waterproof boxes that I'm trying to sort my best utility flies into. I dip my side bag in the water a great deal so I'm using waterproof boxes. Comes with being short-legged and wanting to take one more step. Now that I've tossed the marginally tied efforts into the mason jar, I need to stock the new go-to-river day boxes (one shirt pocket, one side bag -- more than that is just too many flies for prevailing conditions).

Above, the usual motley assortment of fly boxes accumulated over time. I like my felt fly wallet best but flies do slip out. All of these have done some duty as shirt-pocket boxes one time or another.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Almost Spring for Opener. Almost.

 Three pictures of Black River country on Friday.  That's between eleven and thirteen inches on the forest service road a couple miles in towards camp.

The guy down there in a new model F 150 was doing fine ... for about another fifty meters.

The problem wasn't so much the snow but the huge amount of water from the melt and the lubricating effect it had on the sand-bed roads.
 An example. I'm on  "high spot" here and you can see how the snow and ice worked to pool the water.
 The road to an alternate campsite. I didn't get to my chosen spot.

It didn't seem necessary.

So, I was making it down the road fine (after helping the lightweight F 150 in the above picture who had a little traction issue on some running water). However, in the advantage of age and experience a little voice spoke up inside my head as I paused to take these snaps before roaring onward ...

At twenty-two degrees on Saturday morning, this water would surely freeze over to sheet ice. That's always unpleasant especially in camp.

Then, It was to warm Saturday night into Sunday morning and there was a great deal of snow to melt. Local road flooding in the forest lanes was highly likely before I eased out at noon on Sunday.

Maybe, I should come back.

Au Sable in the trees.
South Branch unwadable as is usual on opening day.
The Manistee was fast, high, and treacherous.

I suspect the small Deward segment upstream on the Manistee to be high but manageable in spots. The problem being hopping between those spots with the possibility of getting "high banked"  in the flow and unable to crawl out upstream against the narrow channel current.

The Sturgeon was bank-to-bank and isn't a river with paths down the banks.
The Pigeon was better (the camp road above lead to the Pigeon) but again, it is a brushy beast that demands in-the-river wade fishing.

The Black was anticipated to be high but as it is a smaller stream, it would have been manageable were the surrounding conditions better. My desired stretch has a couple miles of bank walking available.

Discretion and Experience had me drive home Friday night.

Those two seldom are available for dates. Normally, they're washing their hair or something and leave me chasing that hot redhead Rashness and her exotic, leggy cousin Ill-considered. Those two account for most of my best stories and more than a couple scars.

 I fished my local Mill Creek ( one five-inch skinny brown )  on Saturday afternoon in a bit of wind. 

I was the only fisherman out. I caught the little brown on a soft-hackle micro-streamer in root beer on the very first half-cast. Then, nothing in two hours.

It was a good outing.

I was able to use my small OPST 175 grain head and tip set-up on a Winston BIIIx in 4 wt. I was casting from the bank in the weeds and brush with no appreciable backcast. I  covered all the water I wanted. Lovely. Worked like a charm.

Yes, the BIIIx is a wonderful dry fly instrument. It also makes a fine all-rounder here in Michigan, soft tip and all. It's pretty nice plastic.

So, opener. I celebrated at home. Had the place to myself this weekend.

 Biscuits in inverted perspective. Cat heads.
 Biscuits converted to biscuits and gravy. Always looks disgusting in pictures but smells so good in person. It's a small bowl.

Okay, not so small a bowl. Lunch, really.
Blueberry enhanced Jiffy-sourced blueberry muffin coffee cake. This beast was indeed destined to Sunday morning at camp but became Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday breakfast treat back at "base camp."

I'll give the up north two weeks. I'll fish the Huron swinging for smallmouth this weekend. Then, excursion outing to the north.

Still, it's opener. I have daffodils blooming and all that snow was four hours north of me,

That's something.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pre-Season Jitters

 I call it stress tying. You know: that period between when you really want to be on the water and when the season opens. That's stress tying season.

At left, a highly buoyant Coachman. I've concealed a strip of closed cell foam down his spine.

Yea, looks like it too. Call it a Royal Porkman fly.(well, need some true white and ...)
 My size 17 BWO soft-hackle. Yes, I have  a ton of CDC soft hackles in five (!) colors lined up ... not that I have a clue on the colors. I can't see color so I have no idea why I even bother. Usually, I can remember if I sort my fly box which is where. With five colors all tied on a snowy Saturday in January, I've no chance at all.

Nevertheless, a soft-hackle BWO. Yea, I'll work on it. #17 though. With the right presentation it will work.
 Soft hackle hare's ear flymphy tung-head.

I might need 'em and so I tied 'em. I am not a real fan of contact nymphing. Yes, I can freestyle nymph pretty well. Yes, I'm always rusty on the first outing. Always.

Why is that?

Anyway, I might need something if it is cold and dreary and my fish want something ticking on bottom.

That's not going to be my opener, though.

I've got a bug up my ass about making a couple epic trips this year.

I'm going to Wabakimi and one never knows if it might be my last trip. One of these days, I'll be flying in to spread some of Mike's dad's (also know as Old Guy) ashes in lower Wabi. He stopped going when he turned 80 and couldn't pack his own gear. He didn't need to pack gear at all but you try telling that to one of those old hard as nails bastards. Go ahead. I dare you.

Anyway, one day I'll be flying-in to spread Old Guy's ashes.

Then I'll be flying in to spread Mike's. We've had some of the best days of our lives sitting in aluminum islands on a place damn few people ever go. I love the Ontario wilderness. Stunning.

I fell in love with Wabakimi on my first day there in a boat with Reagan. His last Canadian trip at 78. My first.  Thank you Reagan, where ever you are.

I want the Amber Liquid guys to have this joy. Now, I'm too much of a hard-ass and an asshole-first-class for these fellows to listen to me. Different lives.

Nevertheless, I want them all to know "epic."

Yellowstone offers some of that. I want them to go to Yellowstone.

I want the Lamar. The Yellowstone. The Madison. The Gallatin. The Firehole. Cache creek. Soda Butte creek. Slough creek. The Gardner. There is a decade of fishing there for me.

There's a decade of fun for them. How many evenings around campfires are wasted evenings?


No worries about bears. We share the same temperament. Best to give us both a wide birth.

Opener is next week. I'm building a heavy camp. I'm feeding breakfast. I'm fishing. I'm thinking good thoughts about the fellows who can't make it. Who knows how long any of us might have?

I miss my buddy Dean every week. Maybe I can get Mike to come to Yellowstone, too. I won't let him fish with leeches. I promise.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Early Spring Flies, Opener Part 2

 More flies from the recent bench in anticipation of a cold opener.

At left, a coachman style streamer using a dyed guinea fowl as a outer hackle. It's tied on the Alec Jackson 7 1x short, 1x heavy "irons" hook.

Coachman streamer with a blond ginger hackle. It probably is the wrong style for the early/dark theme but it will come in handy soon.

The red ass in size 15. This version uses the red wire abdomen.That's dark claret SLF as the thorax.

I'll us this fly as the deep-point in combination with ...
The Stewart spider in 15. Simple and effective, the Stewart spider with its palmered hackle is a favorite early season choice.  There is a lot in the drift that is dark and lively.

 Grouse and Purple soft hackle. Also size 15.

I bought a new sleeping bag today, A zero degree bag. It's going to bloody cold at night and my thirty degree bag won't be enough.

It snowed again today. Fourth day in a row. More tomorrow.

Might be nice next week. Might not. We'll see.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Opening Day Flies: Michigan 2018

At left, public domain image of Alanson Dunham of Norway, Maine and snowshoes he's made for the Peary expedition (North Pole, 1909).

Mr. Dunham's creations may have a use come open the last Saturday of the month. Right now, I'm sitting out an ice storm of minor proportion (only substantial power outages and downed trees in my neck of the woods, much as you'd expect). Up north in trout country, they're getting hammered.

I might haul my chainsaw north as I'm expecting the campsites to have received very little in the way of clearing downed timber. We'll see.

Yesterday, attended party at my local to celebrate Dirk Fischbach taking over as the Winston area rep. Dirk's been on their pro-staff forever and is the sort of fellow you want to see do well in the industry. He's a consummate commercial angler always ready with a word of encouragement, knowledge about our sport, or a ready smile. Sometimes all three.

I'm also putting together my year. I'm hoping some of the Amber Liquid guys might go to the Colorado front-range for instructional fishing -- the "learn a new approach" style rather than the "let me put a bobber on that" style. I want these guys to have a blast in a new local scene (they're far more social than I am), gain a new skill and the confidence to use it, and see someplace new. If not Colorado, then maybe YNP.

I'm going to RMNP right before July 4th. Canada on the first week of August back to the wilds of Wabakimi and Woodland Caribou National Park on a fly-in,  somewhere in September after kiddies return to school (maybe the epic Michigan UP trip), and in early October out to points west.

I've got a good year lining up.

Flies for Opener

Opener in Michigan looks tough. Entomologically speaking, we are behind on the seasonal development of aquatic insects. Prospects for the Hendrickson hatch are poor.

Subsurface: streamers under and along downed timber (of which I'm sure we're adding inventory this very second), small nymphs and soft-hackles in the flow and eddies, sculpin and crayfish patterns low and slow.

Hendrickson nymphs will be active. They "practice" in the flow sometimes for several weeks before hatching. I just doubt we'll see dry fly action this year. 

I'm tying accordingly.

I started this effort in the middle of last week as the long-term forecasts and the water temperature survey information started popping-up. Snow in Grayling last weekend and this weekend didn't help much (looks like 6" of accumulation in the past 48 hours). Snow is also forecast through Tuesday up there.

The water has been low but ice run-off is still a great deal of very cold water going into the rivers. It might warm quicker with the lower flow rates but that's a process.

I'm still expecting the fly shop reports to contain "saw some BWO and a couple Hendricksons" three mornings this next week because: fly shops. You don't attract patrons by saying "snow chains required on river access roads."  It's money.

You might see some bugs too if it were your money riding on it. Not faulting anyone.

The good news: the rivers are still full of fish and if you can get on them without combat fishing, so much the better. Nothing wrong with catching fish on streamers and nymphs.

I'm going with attractors: coachmen in soft-hackle wet and streamer varieties; Stewart spiders lightly wrapped with a little non-lead; some hare's ear streamers and flymphs.

Twist my arm and I could spend the entire year only fishing coachmen-style flies. I've tied some royal trude based on what I've seen over on Alan's Small Stream Reflections site (link at right). I'm still working out the proportions.  Look at his. They're lovely.

Friday night lubrication. With the bucket of cold water I dispensed on the opener hopes up above, one can use the liquid courage. Gin, gin, gin, and bitters.

Royal Coachman with a dun hackle. I'm reflecting on early season meaning subdued, darker, and largely smaller. This is a size 15 barbless Tiemco.

 Alec Jackson "irons" hook in 7 1x short 1x heavy. I think these are perfect for early streamers that I won't have to weight.

Nice hooks. I'm using them for trout but I understand one needs to be careful debarbing them (if one does) for steelhead and salmon as the debarbing can stress the hook at the barb and weaken it.

A buddy who now uses "debarbing" pliars and is a steelhead junky says he's never broken one since become aware that his water-pump-pliers method of smashing the barb was stressing the tip. Good to know.

A Coachman streamer tied on the above hook using a large dark orange-dyed "crawfish" colored hen hackle.

I think this is a good search streamer for holes, banks, and timber given the seasonal set-back in the fishing calendar.

I can easily be both stupid and wrong. I'm a rank amateur, remember. Always consult your local commercial fisherman for advice

A more traditional coachman streamer tied with a flag of dyed bucktail tied-in under and behind the dual hackles.

I'm using raspberry dyed coastal deer hair for the tails on this series. Seems to fit the "dark, early" intent as well.

Why the yellow bucktail?

Attractor-style streamer. I'm attracted to it.

I've also been tying some Gartside style maribou soft-hackled streamers in small (10-12) sizes. Meh. Mixed results.

I'm learning to master the materials. Some ways to go.

At left, mating some barred maribou for the micro-streamers in neutral colors.

Practice, practice.

I need to tie up some of Steve's scuplin patterns this week as well. Big soft-hackle heads making the sculpin wake as drawn along the bottom on a tight line could save the day.

There are some fish on the other side of the gloom. Let's be ready for them.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trout Camping: Nemo Dark Timber Wall Tent

At left,  a hare's ear dubbed body variant of Steve's "Swing for Trout" style of flies. Pheasant hen tail. Hare's ear+SLF spun in a dubbing loop and secured by wire. Ginger hackle wrapped full.

Size 10 3 xl.  I'll be using these through the spring. I should probably tie a herl abdomen and then the hare's ear+SLF thorax. I'm lazy right now. This is a utility fly. Probably gets the job done. I'll be finding out shortly.

My library desk for the last two weeks. Does everyone else's desk look like this ? (The stack of books are from my trout library and are reference for a work-in-progress ... just like everyone else).

Robert Smith's book open as a visual reminder to tie sparse soft hackles. Sparse.

And sparse. Tried ribbing with floss. Meh. Don't like the outcome but my vote doesn't count. We'll ask the trout. Datus Proper taught us that.

The tent: Base Camp.

I chose a new base camp tent this year as most of Michigan's campsites are drive-up affairs. Maybe I have to pack gear 100 meters. Maybe. Most of the time the tent pad is adjacent to the fire pit adjacent to the gravel pull-in for the 4Runner.

So, where I'm car camping and making a base for a couple days or a week, I'm expanding my footprint. Last fall I crawled across a campsite to use a tree as a support to stand-up in the morning.  Sitting up on a cot has some merit right now.

Here's the final product:

So, the Nemo Dark Timber is a substantial tent consisting of an A-frame shelter and a wall-tent style insert which buckles into the outer shell. This will be clearer in a minute.

First, the set-up.

Tent duffel. About 19 lbs. Packable on a purpose-driven trip. Say, camping a half-mile from the parking I'd make three trips: shelter, sitting, and sleeping; camp kitchen and foods; and fishing gear + utility items.

I'm not opposed to packing a bit on multiple trips for comfort and/or isolation.

The "pile" of gear I'll use in my illustration.

Nemo Dark Timber on left, 2 Byer easy-cots, an REI collapsing table, a canvas dropcloth "tent carpet" and a folding camp chair buried in there.

Everything one needs comes with the tent.

The stakes are massive. I could tie-down a light aircraft on a turf strip with these and have with something similar.

That's a $16 hardware store hatchet. I leave things at the campsite sometimes so hatchets are pure functional items. I sharpen it with a file.

I carry a Randall knife. I carry a hardware-store hand-ax. Go figure.

The A-frame tarp.

A-frame tarp erected. Still working on tension. First pitch tonight and you can see I botched the front corner stake placement. Tension on a tarp should bisect the angle formed by the corner.

My uncle George would be disappointed. In my defense, I haven't set an A-frame tent in twenty-five years. It does come back.

Those poles are massive DAC aluminum. The ridgeline-to-pole connectors are machined stainless. No chance of some sort of grommet failure there. No grommets to break out.

Interior. Floor. Still working on its tension. I don't have a picture of it; but, I did align the force vectors of the out-stakes of the floor segment before proceeding. No pull lines.

Took a minute to get right.

Floor of tent with canvas drop-cloth tent carpet.

Interior in "solo bear" configuration. There is a central lantern hook. It's easily got room for a camp chair, a work table for tying, writing, drinking, and a bunk. I like to write late into the evening when camping.

It brings me closer to Hemingway. I'm sure he sat up late at night on fishing trips and wrote because as he lay on his bunk he thought "what a lazy bastard I am lying here when those stories will not write themselves."

There's a lot of angst and guilt in this racket.

Two bear configuration. Plenty for room for two full-sized cots.

Room between cot and wall for storing.

Access into and out of the tent in two-cot configuration without bothering any other occupant in hibernation mode. Our crew sleeps very soundly when we camp. Not sure about yours.

Interior, two cot mode. I almost brush the ridge line and I'm just at 5'9". Note the huge door. Door storage pockets inside on the "centerpost". Window on the right and I've poorly secured the window covering. Both ends of the tent are of like configuration. It'd be easy to leave the screen open on both ends in August and have great ventilation. It'd be easy to have both windows open in all other months for a bit of the same.

The A-frame ridgeline tarp overhangs the interior tent by two feet on each end.

Another door image. In the right side of the picture, you can clearly see the buckle attachment system which connects the interior tent to the exterior ridgeline tarp.Look at that separation! The air circulation must be amazing and the tent must dry very quickly.

Nemo. Dark Timber tent. It's running about $225 on clearance from Nemo right now. I think the tent market doesn't stand such heavy gear very well. Backpackers want light. Families want cheap. This is a substantial piece of gear that went for $500 list originally.

The tent provides room for base camp and eliminates the need to upgrade to a trailer.

In storms, the tent has 4 guy-outs for the ridgeline (duh), 6 additional side guy-out points for the outer tarp. There are also 8 guy-out points for the inner tent to secure the bottom tent section.

You will have to re-tension the guy-outs in high wind throughout the night. It's the nature of such a tent design. We've all had to do it on classic canvas and yes, I'd suspect you'd have to keep a taught pitch on the Dark Timber.

A Tungsten 3p or 1p  from Marmot both handle 45 - 60 mph straight-line winds. I fully guy-out my tents by habit. Has saved me. I'd use those smaller profile tents should I be expecting thunderstorms.

Will the Dark Timber take a bad storm? I'll let you know.

I have enough confidence to try.

Oh, first pitch with pictures and staging: 35 minutes. I think I could get it up and configured in under 15 minutes next time if I remember all the tensioning tricks.

In rain, the tarp-then-tent set-up would be sweet!

Nemo Dark Timber: Tent